Ben Chasen: Loss in the conference semifinal
One word describes my expectations for Northwestern’s Big Ten Tournament experience: redemption. Standing in NU’s path to a likely NCAA Tournament berth are two teams — Minnesota and Iowa — that left a sour taste in the Wildcats’ mouths after matchups earlier this season. Against the Gophers, the ‘Cats had arguably their worst performance of the season and wound up taking a loss that remains a blight on their resume for the Big Dance. Then there’s the Hawkeyes, who NU took down on the road but fell to in remarkably controversial fashion at Welsh-Ryan Arena, denying the Wildcats what would’ve been another big boost in their tourney hopes.
Point is, Northwestern will have an opportunity to look some of its regular season demons straight in the face in Indianapolis. This team is anchored by senior leaders — namely Veronica Burton, Courtney Shaw and Lauryn Satterwhite — that have learned how to win when it matters most throughout their successful tenures in Evanston. They’ll use that acquired knowledge to get the two victories they need to extend their college careers this weekend.
Daniel Olinger: Loss in conference quarterfinal
I desperately hope that I am wrong. Veronica Burton is a legend in every sense of the word, and she deserves another shot in the NCAA Tournament to finish her historic career in Evanston. However, the pessimistic realist still wins out within me. Despite dropping their previous matchup against Minnesota, I think Burton dominates that opening round matchup, whereas, in a second round bout with Iowa, she’ll be faced with an opponent that presents arguably four of the five best players on the court (depending on how you feel about Gabbie Marshall and Courtney Shaw). A 1-1 performance in Indianapolis likely won’t be enough to vault the Wildcats into the field of 68, but a Joe McKeown squad shutting down Caitlin Clark-led squad on the way to a big win wouldn’t be a first.
Mac Stone: Loss in conference quarterfinal
What Dan said, pretty much. With the way that Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes have been playing recently, taking them down in the quarterfinals will likely be too tall of a task for the ‘Cats. Northwestern shouldn’t have too much of a problem taking down Minnesota, but Iowa is where the Wildcats’ run in Indianapolis will end. I hope I’m wrong, as losing to Iowa will likely keep NU out of March Madness this year.
Sarah Effress: Loss in conference semifinal
To be honest, I’m almost more worried about the Minnesota matchup than I am about a potential clash with Iowa. Sara Scalia ripped apart the Blizzard last time around, and she is an absolute sniper from behind the arc, an area the ‘Cats have been struggling to defend as of late. Nonetheless, Northwestern is undoubtedly a more talented team overall than the Gophers. Should they successfully take into account what went wrong last time around and adjust, the Wildcats will come out victorious. When it comes to Iowa, the ‘Cats are just going to have to play at their best. Their best is pretty formidable, as was seen against Iowa early in conference play and when they took down then-No. 4 Michigan. A lot will have to go right to take down the Hawkeyes, but I believe Burton and company can do it.
Jacob Brown: Loss in conference quarterfinal
Caitlin Clark is really, really good at basketball. I see the ‘Cats coming out and gutting out a close win against Minnesota, but with the extra rest and Clark playing like the best player in the country right now, I just don’t see any way that Northwestern gets past Iowa. Burton will do everything she can to will the team to the Big Dance, but Northwestern’s supporting cast will be unable to similarly step up, as Clark and Czinano each lay 20 to push the Hawkeyes over NU. Sadly, I don’t think Northwestern makes the tournament with a loss here, and we will likely see it in the WNIT this year despite an all-time season from the Backcourt Burglar.
Jake Mozarsky: Loss in conference quarterfinal
I think the ‘Cats are a live team in this tournament. They’ve been playing well lately and have a few good wins on their resume. But I think that, as is the case in most of these conference tournaments, the best players show up, and Caitlin Clark is the best player in the B1G. While Northwestern might be able to play Clark close, they will suffer from her endless shooting range. The Big Dance dream ends in the conference quarters for a Northwestern team that had its ups and downs this season.
Ignacio Dowling: Loss in conference quarterfinal
The common thread in Northwestern’s last few losses is its inability to limit centers. Just look at Sunday’s loss against Nebraska, when Alexis Markowski put up 16 points and 12 boards. Simply put, if the ‘Cats allow a double-double and get outrebounded, they’re probably going to lose. NU should make the necessary adjustments to beat Minnesota, but Caitlin Clark demands so much defensive attention that it’s going to be difficult to stop Monika Czinano from dominating the glass. The Big Ten Player of the Year displayed incredible range in Iowa’s win in Evanston, but it was Czinano who dictated the game from the post. It’s likely she’ll do it again and free up ample opportunities for Clark to lock Northwestern out on the wrong side of the bubble.
Bradley Locker: Loss in conference quarterfinal
Northwestern’s two games against Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes were decided by eight and five points, respectively, with the two teams splitting the bill in thoroughly exciting affairs. As much as there is a sense of desperation regarding this Wildcat team — Veronica Burton’s last dance and the need to solidify an NCAA Tournament berth — it feels like the Hawkeyes almost have more at stake. After winning a share of the Big Ten alongside Ohio State, Lisa Bluder’s team must capitalize on a one-in-a-generation season from Caitlin Clark; anything other than a championship appearance — and, frankly, a win — would be a disappointment. We’ve already seen that anything can happen in Indy, with Penn State and Wisconsin being upset in the first round, but the Hawkeyes won in Evanston despite a career-worst 11 turnovers from the Big Ten Player of the Year. Iowa is simply a better team, and that fact will likely show itself on Friday.
Gavin Dorsey: Loss in conference second round
Call me pessimistic, and there’s nothing more I want to be wrong, but the streakiness and inconsistency of Northwestern’s offense gives me very little hope that this team can light it up when it needs to. Veronica Burton is going to do what she’s going to do, but can the other pieces step up when the spotlight is brightest? The Wildcats are the worst shooting team in the Big Ten, and Sunday’s performance against Nebraska gives me little faith that they can take down a team that they previously shot just 28 percent from the field against in the first three quarters. Additionally, Northwestern’s three-point defense has been abysmal down the stretch of this season, and Minnesota was able to exploit the Blizzard for 10 threes on 52 percent shooting last time around. I hope they prove me wrong, but I’m low on the ‘Cats’ chances at this moment.